August 19, 2019

Another Look: The Lansdale Statement (Peter Enns, 2017)

Moses receiving the tablets of the Law. Chagall

Note from CM: We ran this a couple of years ago, when it was suddenly all the rage for Christians to publish “statements” taking stands on various issues. Noting that the PCA (Presbyterian Church in America) recently committed to one of those statements in good Presbyterian dogmatic fashion, I thought we might revisit Pete Enns’s counter-statement to such statements.

Then you can have a chance to make a statement about the statement and counter-statement. And perhaps then I will come out with a further statement to clarify why I like this counter-statement and have my doubts about the original statement. Followed by your statements in response. And so on…

World without end. Amen. Amen.

• • •

Another Look: The Lansdale Statement (Peter Enns, 2017)

THE LANSDALE STATEMENT
By Peter Enns

PREAMBLE
Really? Another public here-I-stand “statement” that claims to set the record straight once and for all on a sensitive and complex issue our planet is dealing with? What is it with American Evangelicals and Fundamentalists?

ARTICLE 1
We affirm
that God, having given us minds, rejoices when we use them.

We deny that God intended Scripture to relieve us of this responsibility.

ARTICLE 2
WE affirm
 that Scripture, by God’s wisdom, was written by actual people in actual historical contexts for actual contextual reasons, and that such contexts are central to proper biblical understanding and application.

We deny that Scripture, which reflects the wisdom of the Creator, is simply sitting there waiting to be used irrespective of its various contexts.

ARTICLE 3
We affirm
that humans, who are created in God’s image, who are endowed with powers of reason, analysis, and an irrepressible curiosity, have thereby made enormous strides in understanding the cosmos, the nature of humanity, and the wonders of the world around us, and that many who have contributed to these strides are fellow believers in Jesus.

We deny that Scripture when handled in willful isolation from or dismissal of such strides is “faithful” or pleasing to the Creator.

ARTICLE 4
We affirm that the Christian faith, though a broadly unified and distinct tradition, is both historically and globally not monolithic in its expression, and that therefore true Godly wisdom is found in humility and dialogue among the manifold voices of the Christian faith.

We deny that (though it’s a free country) a small number of largely white males living in one moment of the human drama are in a place to make statements that claim abiding normativity for all Christians for all time.

ARTICLE 5
We affirm
that all our theological utterances, because we are not God but mere humans, are contextually generated and bounded.

We deny that any of our theological utterances can claim “plain fact” neutrality, and therefore reflect unfiltered the Divine mind.

ARTICLE 6
We affirm
 that human experience is rich and complex, presents us with numerous ambiguities, and therefore defies simple categorization.

We deny that the Creator has assigned to us the task of sorting out and simplifying the richness and complexities of the human drama.

ARTICLE 7
We affirm
 that the binaries of Genesis 1 (which includes animals restricted to living on land, in the sea, or in the air) reflect—by the will and wisdom of God—ancient, ideal conceptions of cosmic order.

We deny that the binaries of Genesis 1 “teach” that amphibians, mammals that fly, live in the ocean, or lay eggs, or any other creatures of God’s creation that do not fit the Genesis 1 binary, are outside of God’s wise design.

ARTICLE 8
We affirm
that God is the infinite and inscrutable Creator, which is itself affirmed in Scripture, and therefore we should be careful to claim to be speaking for God as if nothing could be more obvious.

We deny that God’s voice is easily replicated in our own.

ARTICLE 9
We affirm that public statements are largely written for the already convinced, are therefore belligerent by design, too often passive-aggressive in tone, and therefore are a colossal waste of time, not to mention make it that much more difficult for others to bear witness to Jesus.

We deny that Jesus is rooting for us to write more statements.

Signed,

Pete Enns, Lansdale, PA (white male)

My dogs, Gizmo, Miley, and Stassi

My cats, Snowy, Marmalade, and Baron

My rabbit, Thumper

I’m sure a lot of other people.

Comments

  1. Per my previous post, I can run with affirmations which are modest in their scope due to intellectual humility and a right appreciation of our place in the cosmos (i.e. not God).

    But there is often only a difference in tone between that and the more cynical/belligerent post-modern, “nobody can be sure of anything, and certainly not YOU”.

    I’m not saying that this statement is either, but this thought just occurred to me while mulling over my own reaction to reading it.

    • “Nobody can be sure of anything, and certainly not YOU.”

      Oh but Ben, this needs to be said over and over again to the “oh so sure” proclaimers of pharisaical certainty in our day.

      I think Jesus is happy when we do. But maybe I’m twisted too.

  2. Wasn’t it determined at the Council of Notnicea that God can be infinite or inscrutable but not both infinite and inscrutable? Or was it the other way round?

    ps Only a Godless Liberal would name a rabbit Thumper.

  3. …therefore are a colossal waste of time,

    In this, at least, I agree with Peter Inns. With practically nothing else, though.

    Hell, I might as well waste some time as well

    I affirm that for any particular person in any particular situation faces with a particular decision there are a number of right, Christ-honoring, God-oriented, self-denying, others-promoting difficult choices and (quite likely) a larger number of wrong, Christ-denying, God-offending, self-seeking, others-be-damned, cowardly, choices.

    I deny that it is any business of mine to insert myself uninvited into the process of any particular person’s making of that choice.

    I affirm that the Bible is a useful tool for assisting in discerning the correct course of action. It is especially useful when consulted humbly, prayerfully, and with an eye cocked to the innumerable witnesses who have extracted wisdom from it in the past.

    I deny that there is an algorithm for extracting the correct course of action from the Bible apart from the faithful community spread across space and time. I also deny that consulting the Bible when your passions are already in a lather and screaming for indulgence is likely to produce any answer other than one your passions require.

  4. Enns gets all bent out of shape over the most inane things while ignoring his own propensity to write 200+ pages of his own versions of a statement.

    I may not agree with everything in a “statement” but it does help to quickly understand the core beliefs an individual or group might hold. Doesn’t mean I won’t partake, participate, fellowship, etc. But in my mind it helps to understand the boundary markers for conversation.

    Unlike Enns. Who with each book and each podcast one is left wondering what on earth he actually believes. He’s turning into a whiny narcissist whose cynicism grows old.

    • Not commenting on Enns in particular here… but it has been interesting that so many of the scholars and thinkers who helped me deconstruct and reconstruct my view of the Bible and faith 10 years ago now seem to annoy the crap out of me. I don’t know what to make of it.

      • Sean, you’re right, it happens.

        Which is one reason why I’m pretty sure people get sick of me too.

        • Ha! Touché.

          As an older millennial I think I am beginning to fulfill this role for the members of Gen Z in my church. I’m sure it’s inevitable for us all.

      • Rick Ro. says

        –> “so many of the scholars and thinkers who helped me deconstruct and reconstruct my view of the Bible and faith 10 years ago now seem to annoy the crap out of me.”

        It’s the “Woody Allen” syndrome. His insecure, neurotic persona was funny for a while, then it just got old.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says

      > but it does help to quickly understand the core beliefs an individual or group might hold

      But is that help helpful?

    • Rick Ro. says

      –> “I may not agree with everything in a “statement”…but in my mind it helps to understand the boundary markers for conversation.”

      If it were ONLY for that reason (set boundaries for conversation), then I’d agree with you. The problem with many of the statements Enns is skewering is that most of the people (and groups) that develop them intend for them to be DEFINITIVE with little or no wiggle room, leaving a “questioner” with nowhere to turn except to either nod and keep silent or leave. I’ve been shown statements at my own church and asked, “Here, sign this. Everyone else is.”

      Umm…no thanks. But guess what that did. I was viewed as an outsider and rebellious. All because someone thought it would be good to develop a “statement of faith” and then have everyone sign it. That’s not “boundary markers for conversation,” that’s outright “set in stone.”

      That’s what Enns is reacting to (and why I like his sarcastic reaction).

      –> “Unlike Enns. Who with each book and each podcast one is left wondering what on earth he actually believes. He’s turning into a whiny narcissist whose cynicism grows old.”

      Hmm…maybe it’s time to turn off his podcast, eh? I’ve only taken Enns in small doses, but I could see how, if he’s developed a fan base that likes his “schtick,” that his kind of cynicism and sarcasm could grow old. Has he become that one-note? Based upon other comments here, that would seem to be the case.

      • Hasn’t grown old for me. Beneath the “schtick” is one of the finest OT scholars of our generation.

        • Rick Ro. says

          Yeah, he hasn’t bothered me like he has apparently bothered others. I think my “small doses” of Enns has helped keep his “schtick” refreshing. It could also be that I enjoy his pushing back against some of traditional albeit man-made religiosity. He and Michael Spencer would probably have gotten along well.

      • Adam Tauno Williams says

        But what is the point to “boundary markers for conversation”?

        Boundaries are for making sides. Does having sides help conversation?

      • Adam Tauno Williams says

        > He’s turning into a whiny narcissist whose cynicism grows old

        Enns is cynical? I haven’t detected that.

    • Jeff, well, this statement is two years old, so I’m not too sure about what it says about Pete today. He certainly uses humor and sarcasm, and perhaps that’s not everyone’s cup of tea. But he is one of the finest OT scholars in our generation, and one who is able to communicate on a popular level as few can.

      One thing he’s learned — and that I have learned from him — is a more Jewish orientation to biblical debate. That has always included a mix of “whiny-ness” and “cynicism” that you seem to object to. You probably don’t like Woody Allen either, to name just one of my favorite Jewish philosophers.

    • Also, who gets to set “boundary markers for conversation”? Pretty much anything outside the Apostles’ Creed is fair game for discussion, as far as I’m concerned.

      • I don’t think I would take it quite that far. At least throw the Nicene Creed in there as well.

        • OK with that.

          • Christiane says

            what’s with modern fundamentalist-evangelical understanding of ‘the Holy Trinity’ in light of the fact that they don’t have the ancient creeds, only the Scriptures as reference for understanding?

            It looks to me like there is confusion among them. For sure, there is a wide range of ways of speaking about ‘Who God Is’ and ‘the divinity of Christ’ and ‘the role of the Holy Spirit’, so there doesn’t seem to be a lock-step understanding among them.

            Has anyone with gravitas written about the fundamentalist-evangelical theology of the Holy Trinity?

    • Rampaging Chipmunk says

      I’m just struck by how much Enns resembles an older John Cena.

  5. Adam Tauno Williams says

    I feel ARTICLE 6 is the root of the issue.
    Statement writers are not ARTICLE 6 people.
    Statement writers are more “it’s just…” / “no, really…” people; ambiguities being what people assert when they do not want to see the obvious clear and simple trues – typically as a result of their having less moral courage than the statement writer. The statement authors are just calling it like it is.

  6. David Cornwell says

    Any statement coming from this office will be issued later as a Tweet on Twitter. Then it will be official until some twit issues a taunt of his/her own, also on Twitter.

  7. I love Article 2 – this is what I have been saying for years now. We can’t hope to understand scripture unless we take the time to understand the people that actually wrote it, and how the world they lived in influenced their writings. For far too long we have ignored the Judaic worldview that most of the authors of the scripture held.

    Most modern Christians completely ignore the fact that the Jews not only wrote the scripture – they gave us our Savior, and he was a Jew. Acknowledging these facts and learning about how they viewed the scriptures is a crucial step in understanding it and applying it correctly in our life.